September 23, 2004
The Honorable Douglas Christensen
Nebraska Department of Education
301 Centennial Hall, South, 6th Floor
P.O. Box 94987
Lincoln, NE 68509-4987
Dear Commissioner Christensen:
I am writing in response to Nebraska's request to amend its State accountability plan under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). Following our discussions with your staff, those changes that are aligned with NCLB are now included in an amended State accountability plan that Nebraska submitted to the Department in August 2004. A list of the changes is enclosed with this letter. I am pleased to approve Nebraska's amended plan, which we will post on the Department's website.
This letter also documents one aspect of Nebraska's amendments for which final action is still needed. Nebraska wishes to apply a confidence interval to safe harbor determinations. Nebraska may use this statistical test (limited to a 75% confidence interval) for making adequate yearly progress (AYP) determinations this school year. We request, however, that Nebraska provide impact data from the 2003-2004 AYP data regarding the use of this statistical test for "safe harbor" when available. These data will provide valuable information regarding this particular aspect of the accountability system.
If, over time, Nebraska makes changes to the accountability plan that has been approved, Nebraska must submit information about those changes to the Department for review and approval, as required by section 1111(f)(2) of Title I. Approval of Nebraska's accountability plan is not also an approval of Nebraska's standards and assessment system. As Nebraska makes changes in its standards and assessments to meet requirements under NCLB, Nebraska must submit information about those changes to the Department for peer review through the standards and assessment process.
Please also be aware that approval of Nebraska's accountability plan for Title I, including the amendments approved above, does not indicate that the plan complies with Federal civil rights requirements, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
I hope that you have found the accountability plan amendment process effective for implementing a State accountability system that best serves the needs of Nebraska's students and schools and that will lead to improving the academic achievement of all students. As evidenced by the diversity among State accountability plans and State consolidated applications, States have great flexibility in the design of their systems and implementation of particular NCLB provisions. If, as you implement your accountability plan, you find additional elements of your plan that you believe should be refined or amended for next school year to best serve the needs of your students and schools, I encourage you to explore all the areas of flexibility available to your State.
In addition to the flexibility available to States in the design and implementation of their accountability plans, I also encourage you and your districts to utilize the additional flexibility available for the administration and operation of NCLB programs. NCLB continued the flexibility available to States and districts under the 1994 reauthorization of the ESEA, including the ability to consolidate State and local administrative funds (sections 9201 and 9203), to operate schoolwide programs (section 1114), and to participate in the Education Flexibility Partnership Program ("Ed-Flex"). Additionally, NCLB created several new flexibility options for States and districts for the operation of federal programs. These new flexibility provisions include the State Flexibility Authority (sections 6141 through 6144), the Local Flexibility Demonstration program (sections 6151 through 6156), Transferability (sections 6121 through 6123), and the Rural Education Achievement program (sections 6201 through 6234). These flexibilities truly offer States and districts the ability to target federal resources to their unique and individual needs.
I am confident that Nebraska will continue to advance its efforts to hold schools and school districts accountable for the achievement of all students. I wish you well in your school improvement efforts. If I can be of any additional assistance to Nebraska in its efforts to implement other aspects of NCLB, please do not hesitate to call.
cc: Governor Mike Johanns
Amendments to the Nebraska Accountability Plan
These statements are summaries of the amendments. For complete details, please refer to the Nebraska Accountability plan on the Department's website: www.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/stateplans03/index.html
Accountability Subgroup Size (Elements 3.2, 4.1, 5.3, and 5.5)
Revision: Nebraska will use a subgroup size of 30 for all student subgroups, including the students with disabilities subgroup.
Confidence Interval (Elements 3.2, 4.1, and Appendix B)
Revision: Nebraska will apply a 99% confidence interval for reading, mathematics, and writing for all groups, schools, and districts. A 75% confidence interval will be used in applying the "safe harbor" procedure. Nebraska will provide data regarding how the confidence interval is applied to "safe harbor" determinations of AYP.
Small School Review (Element 3.2)
Revision: Nebraska has enhanced its small school review process. Small schools, defined as schools or districts with no accountability groups containing a minimum of 30 students, will continue to be held to the provisions of the State policies on Accountability and Using School Performance Information for Improving Learning and will continue to receive an annual adequate yearly progress (AYP) determination. Additionally, to ensure that small schools and districts are accountable for all student subgroups, the State will accumulate data for multiple years to make more AYP subgroup determinations.
Identification of districts for improvement (Element 4.1)
Revision: Nebraska will identify districts for improvement only when they do not make AYP in the same subject and all grade spans (i.e., elementary, middle, and high schools) for two consecutive years. In implementing this provision, States should 1) monitor districts that have not made AYP in one grade span but have not been identified for improvement to ensure they are making the necessary curricular and instructional changes to improve achievement, and 2) take steps to ensure supplemental services are available to eligible students from a variety of providers throughout the state (including in LEAs that have not been identified for improvement but that have schools that have been in improvement for more than one year).